Style preferences for comfort established during the pandemic are here to stay, evidenced by consumer spending behaviour and spring collections.
Consumers needed luxury brands to help them with anxiety reduction, sensory appeal, motivation and therapeutic value, Bain & Companyreportedlast July.
Luxury is no longer about a price point; it’s about relevance. What’s most relevant to customers right now is an alignment of luxury and wellbeing, a pandemic-driven form of “comfort consumerism” that sees customers indulging in purchases in the pursuit of consolation. To evolve in a post-pandemic world, luxury retailers must first understand how style preferences are changing and, much like their direct-to-consumer counterparts, embrace consumer-centric strategies to adapt.
Global payments provider and shopping service Klarna is tracking these shifts for its retail partners, analysing product-level shopping habits and insights from its 90 million customers.
Klarna’s app, with two million monthly users in the US and 12 million globally, provides key data on what consumers want to buy next, via its “wish list” feature. CEO Sebastian Siemiatkowski highlights Klarna’s ability to collect rich data on fashion and luxury as a strength.
2020 saw many people reevaluating their lifestyles on a number of fronts, says Celenie Laura Fleur Seidel, senior womenswear editor at Farfetch. “Wellness and self-care have suddenly become more of a priority than ever.”
Following the rise in popularity of activewear during the pandemic, New Year’s resolutions and fitness and wellness-related goals could be an even stronger bet for retailers than in previous years. Klarna, whose network of 200,000 global retail partners include Farfetch, The North Face and Olivia Rubin, saw the trend towards wellness and comfort stay strong until the end of 2020, with Klarna’s 2020 Holiday Retail Report finding that 79 per cent of its customers would rather feel healthy than wealthy.
For fashion designer Olivia Rubin, wellness is a trend that isn’t going away. Following on from her brand’s collaboration with Elemis, launched within the first wave of the pandemic, she will collaborate again with the bodycare brand in 2021, saying “it’s important to help people feel happy and positive”.
Klarna wish list data confirms the self-care continuum for brands and retailers. Leading up to the holidays, a $275 Versace quilted sleeping mask ranked higher in Klarna’s most wished-for accessories list than designer watches. Sneakers held nine out of 10 spots on the footwear wish list, while activewear and designer athleisure pieces dominated wish-listed apparel. The desire for self-care and wellness related products was also evident within the beauty category, with skincare taking six out of the 10 spots on the Klarna top 10 beauty wish list.
Dr Rebecca Arnold, fashion historian and author, says trends that have historically risen during times of collective anxiety or unrest sometimes continue. This time, it’s more likely they will mutate, she says. “We were already seeing mixes of athleisure and high-fashion pieces before the pandemic. It’s possible that it will re-emerge as a stronger trend still.”
Seidel believes that elements of the quarantine wardrobe will remain post-pandemic, meaning consumers won’t be putting on heels and carrying heavy handbags just yet.
“Global lockdowns and the new work-from-home culture have seen undeniable change in the way that we are dressing,” she says, referring to the increase in sales of loungewear, flat shoes and smaller bags for essentials. “With many businesses rethinking their company culture where in office versus at-home hours are concerned, it is likely that some of these changes in shopping habits will outlast the pandemic.”
The Spring/Summer 2021 runways mirror these same consumer-centric needs. Bar jackets from Christian Dior, previously part of the post-WWII glamour trend, are now being restyled as part of comfortable outfits. Jonathan Anderson’s “poetic armour” at Loewe in the shape of voluminous silhouettes and mask-like turtlenecks at Balenciaga also hone in on the consumer need for protection and emotional wellbeing.
The puffer jacket, the teaser item that promoted the 2021 collaboration between Gucci and The North Face, also taps into current consumer mindsets. Tina Rolén, EMEA marketing director at The North Face, says that outdoor sports is as much about mental health as physical.
Take the inside, out
The American Psychological Association is reporting on the long-term effects that the pandemic will have on social anxiety, especially for Gen Z. When consumers do leave their homes for good, brands and retailers have the opportunity to support this process.
“Comfort means different things at different times within fashion history. Now, we need more physical, tactile comfort from soft, warm clothes that cocoon us from the outside world,” says Arnold.
Farfetch’s noticeable spike in the sale of homeware reflects what Seidel believes is a consumer desire for “creating a comforting sanctuary”. Clothing from Jacquemus — complete with motifs of table tops and ceramics — signals this same consumer desire echoing the emotional security of sheltering at home.
Inspire consumers to reconnect
When social distancing rules loosen, we can expect fashion to inspire consumers via travel and exploration.
Rolén says that consumers still want to see inspiring adventure content even if it is not accessible at the moment. “With the freedom reinstated post-pandemic, we think the love of the outdoors will continue to grow,” she says, adding that The North Face aims to be part of this consumer journey. “In a difficult year where exploration has been limited, it has raised awareness of how nature can be restorative and aid wellbeing in so many ways. As an outdoor brand, we have the opportunity to share the incredible value in the physical and mental benefits of exploring the outdoors and loving wild places.”
Champion integrated brand experiences
After Covid-19, brands that incorporate wellbeing into their ongoing communication and design strategies will reap the rewards.
The North Face is hoping that the benefits of outdoor sports be available to all, via its Reset Normal initiative. Vans launched its Checkerboard Day in October 2020, an annual fundraising day where the brand donates to mental health and wellbeing charities.
Traditional luxury brands and retailers are also taking note on how to connect products with experiences that help consumers feel better. During the pandemic, Gucci promoted its Orgasmique SS20 collection by sponsoring a series of the Sex Ed podcast, a show that focuses on sexual wellness. Meanwhile, Bottega Veneta creative director Daniel Lee has shown comfortable pants and homey knits for Resort 2021, and created The Bottega Residency, an online programme of events aimed to bring hope and prevent loneliness during quarantine.
Make it easy to return to joy
When the pandemic is behind us, Arnold, Seidel and Rubin all see a time when a countertrend of high glamour and tailoring will arrive amid a rebirth of dress-up.
However, according to McKinsey and Company, newness is important to only 19 per cent of fashion consumers mid-pandemic, meaning that consumers will, for now, still want formal looks mixed with the timeless ease of comfort and sports.
For Klarna customers, such items have recently included a Burberry Montage sweatshirt with the word “love” written on the chest and an Alexander McQueen or Balenciaga Triple S sneaker (both most desired in pink).
Provide omnichannel calm
Retailers and brands will also have to consider how shopping for new, post-pandemic styles could play out in stores. Anxiety around fitting rooms, for instance, is expected to last beyond lockdowns, according to a report published by the EY Future Consumer Index, which found that 80 per cent of UK consumers will feel uncomfortable about trying on clothes in-store even after the pandemic is over.
Brands will need to take this into consideration. Comfortable outfits and sneakers will remain a socially distanced retail solution for those wanting to celebrate what Seidel foresees will be a period of “joy and optimism”.
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